With its pastel-coloured stone buildings dating from the 19th-century Russian occupation, and its well-organised grid plan, Kars looks like a slice of Russia teleported to northeastern Anatolia. And the city's mix of influences – Kurdish, Azeri, Turkmen, Turkish and Russian – adds to its distinct feel. No wonder it provided the setting for Turkish author Orhan Pamuk's acclaimed novel Kar (Snow).
Kars is usually regarded as a base for visiting the ruins at Ani, but it's worth spending time exploring its sights, soaking up the lively vibe (to which the large Kafkas University contributes significantly), and sampling some of the excellent local cuisine. It also makes a convenient base for exploring remote villages and sights in the surrounding steppe.